Out of one cold winter and into another

Still working on the draft for Cold Winter as I get time. Up to 55k words so far, and the past weekend saw a deep edit of the prologue, which provides a snippet of Alex’s tortuous childhood. If I can stay focused, I’ll hopefully have the draft of the first novel wrapped up by end of summer.

I’m sort of poking around the internet, looking for a new artist since my main one has been AWOL from any kind of email communications about the third part of the Primal Patterns series. If you have artist recommendations, drop me a line!

Updates and Goings On

Wow. It’s been a year since I’ve posted anything. That’s not very nice of me. What the heck have I been doing?

Well, as I’ve mentioned in the about section, I earned a PhD in CS with a focus in artificial intelligence, and I’ve had a very busy couple of years pursuing my interests in computer science. During that time, I’ve worked with nearly a dozen PhD-candidate students in one of the finest universities in the world, and it’s been very stressful, busy, and also fulfilling. I’ve traveled a bit around the world (Berlin this year) and the US with trips from coast-to-coast. All that traveling and also my wife quitting her job meant that money was a bit more tight and cutting back on publishing costs became pretty necessary (Lucifer’s Odyssey’s production costs were in the thousands, and I don’t want to produce a poorly revised, edited, and created work).

In that time period, I’ve talked with people from diverse backgrounds, heard their stories, and also caught up on a lot of movies and television shows. I can’t claim it’s all been focused on writing because writing has definitely found its way to my back burner, but during all of these interactions I’ve thought of stories.

I’m still writing fiction in a much reduced mode right now. My main writing outlet has been via open source coding projects and building middleware and software libraries in my primary field of study. But writing fiction is still there as a creative outlet (even if video games like World of Warcraft are invading my limited free time).

I apologize if waiting for the final chapter of Lucifer’s Odyssey has been frustrating. It’s been pretty frustrating for me too: not because I don’t love the characters and story but because so few other people appear to and it’s so expensive to get such a complex book right. It’s more likely that my next book will not be the final chapter of the Primal Patterns saga, but instead the first chapter of Alex Winter’s story. I did extend the rewrite of the Winter Phenomenon/Cold Winter by another 1k words or so this past weekend while my nieces were visiting my wife and I.

Why am I working on Cold winter and where is it going right now? Well, with what I see in book sales and pop culture, the romantic angle is more likely to resonate with new readers. The story is likely to be more simple and less chaotic. I mean, I enjoy Chaos a lot and believe life really does have a delightfully random nature to it, but I’m trying to tone down my randomness a bit. I think it will make readers feel more comfortable and more willing to take a chance with the next chapter or even the next book.

Is it the right move? No idea. I don’t think finishing the Primal Patterns series is going to really boost its sales much at all. The first book is just too hard for the majority of book readers to get into and love. People won’t make it to the third book, and the third book is going to be so vastly different in tone, emotional anchoring and direction that someone who loved the first book may not even like the third. I have no idea.

Anyway, that’s where things stand. I have no idea when either book will be out of first draft, but it’s likely that no novels will be released this year. My financial situation has improved somewhat, and I may be able to afford a cover artist and editing in shorter works. But novels are a lot of work, especially given my time constraints. We’ll see.

Free books for Halloween!

In celebration of Halloween, arguably the most awesome holiday in existence because everyone dresses up like someone they’re not and gives away free stuff, I’m giving away all of my books for free until November 2nd. That’s right. I apparently don’t need money, and you need free books, so share these Smashwords coupons with a friend and celebrate Halloween in style–by sitting on your favorite cushy chair and reading some fun, free books! Also, check out http://witchyebooks.blogspot.com/ for other authors who are giving away Halloween books for free!


Hallow’s Ween
Smashwords Coupon: VR38H (100% off)
Smashwords Link: Download
Description:

Talented teenage witch Chloe Hallow seeks the heart of the love of her life, but when her attempts at a normal conversation fail, she falls back on what she knows best: alchemy. The resulting spell leaves an indelible stain on the small magical community of Squirrel Hill, but every year, her enduring legacy touches the world.


Elves and Goblins: Perspectives of a Father’s Rebellion
Smashwords Coupon: PH22Y(100% off)
Smashwords Link: Download
Description:

Aidan looks into the eyes of his dying son Elan, the last of his line, and curses the goblins who have marginalized his elven people into the meager forests. To find a cure and save his boy, Aidan must enter the forbidden goblin towns, but violating the peace could jeopardize more than just his family’s future.


Angels and Demons: Perspectives of a Father’s Rebellion
Smashwords Coupon: PH22Y(100% off)
Smashwords Link: Download
Description:

Heaven and hell are vying for human souls in vortices between humanity and the afterlife. When Lucifer and his demons overwhelm Archangel Michael and Gabriel, heaven is faced with the possibility of losing all souls on the planet. Reincarnated in heaven, Michael must fight his way back to Earth to stop the devil before he tricks humanity into harvesting billions of souls into his fiery kingdom.


Lucifer’s Odyssey (Primal Patterns 1)
Smashwords Coupon: You don’t need one. It’s free for the entire holiday season!
Smashwords Link: Download
Description:

A civil war rages across the heavens between Lucifer and Jehovah, but it’s not the story you thought you knew…

Lucifer languishes in an earthly prison, awaiting the apocalypse that will finally free him after 200,000 years. Before breaking loose, he discovers that the armageddon he set in motion will destroy the capital of Chaos, his home universe.

He travels back to Chaos and stumbles upon a bloody civil war devastating his homeland. The realm’s magic wielders are firmly under the control of a rival clan, and without their protection, Lucifer’s family is in mortal peril. As old demon clan rivalries blossom and a new hostile universe expands across the known multiverse, Lucifer is faced with not only protecting Chaos from annihilation but also saving his rightful place on the throne.


The Goblin Rebellion (Primal Patterns 2)
Smashwords Coupon: DC39S (100% off)
Smashwords Link: Download
Description:

Five years after the Uldram catastrophe, the elf Routan sits in a shattered home filled with the faded memories of his murdered children. King Elandril has done nothing to bring Lucifer and the demons to justice, and despite the assurances of the government, Routan remains convinced that the Elven Realm is in grave danger. Assistance comes from the creator of the Order Primal, and together, he and Routan will shake the foundations of the multiverse.

Upcoming titles

The release of the anniversary edition of Lucifer’s Odyssey has gone well, and the book is now free on Barnes and Noble and Smashwords. I have been making progress on Shadows of Our Fathers, and it is nearing 50k words, but I’ve also taken some time to work on other, shorter works.

Later this month, I will be releasing “Hallow’s Ween,” which is a fun origin story for the Halloween holiday and set many thousands of years earlier than you might think. Another series that may come out this year is tentatively titled “Our Criminal Future” and features a heroine’s fight against organized crime in the twenty third century.

I will continue to hammer away at Shadows of Our Fathers, but I’m extremely interested in getting started on both the “Our Criminal Future” and “The Winter Phenomenon” serials. I think the stories are more accessible, fun, and less likely to offend while still discussing interesting issues in technology and our future.

Random Internet Videos #Eleventy-Six

I haven’t posted anything in a while, and in typical lazy-guy fashion, instead of posting new insightful content, I have decided to post more internet wackiness and some terse updates.

First, the updates. If you missed it, my story “Saving Suzanna” was published in the Indie Ecclective’s “Pride Collection” back in June. The Pride Collection is a celebration of Pride Month, and the quality of the short stories is nothing short of remarkable (especially at a price point of $0.99). I’m very proud to have been a part of it. As for what’s next, I am back to writing the third book in the Primal Patterns series after my move to Pittsburgh. I am pushing the release date back to January 1, 2013.

Shameless plugs and writing comments aside, let’s get to a couple of funny videos from Ted Films. Both of these are Star Wars themed, but you came to this site knowing that I am nerdy, so I will make no apologies.

Star Wars That I used to Know

Rebecca Black Parody. Yesterday was Benduday…

Dang Beijing, you crazy!

On April 16th through 20th, I stayed in Beijing, China for a conference on cyberphysical systems. The conference was OK, but the city and culture of Beijing were far, far more interesting. I won’t cover the smog because I didn’t really take any good pictures of the ridiculous mixture of dust from the Gobi Desert and oppressive exhaust from the many cars on the streets. What follows instead is a tale of communist Obama, scorpions, food poisoning and concubines. Dang Beijing, you crazy!

So, I had to do conference stuff on the 17th, but on the 18th, I got a tour of Beijing from a graduate student at Vanderbilt who had lived in the capital. We didn’t stick to the tour routes. We went all local-like, and one of the first things we noticed at a shop on the way from the Forbidden City was the image to the left, which is hilarious for two reasons. First, Obama is dressed in Mao Zedong communist-party garb. Fox News should have a heyday with this one, right? I mean, obviously this is just further proof that he’s a closet muslim, communist, whatever! Well, actually he’s just popular over there like he is everywhere else. For a communist country like China, he represents an American that understands what it means to put the people in front of himself. Their words. The second really funny thing about this image is the caption of the shirt underneath Obama. “Knowledge likes pants. Invisible but very important.” My guess is that this is meant to say “Knowledge is like panties: invisible but very important.” The way it is phrased right now is quite simply hilarious. Before you ask, pants are very visible in China.

Next stop on the crazy China train is “Snack Alley”, which is off the main shopping district a couple of blocks from the Forbidden City. Snack Alley literally has everything you might possibly want to eat, including a lot of things you probably don’t want to eat. For instance, live scorpions on a stick. Now, our graduate student told us that she’s never eaten them, is afraid of them, and has no idea who eats them. In her defense, I didn’t see anyone purchase a single scorpion on a stick from the dozens of places that were selling them. But that’s the point. There are dozens of places selling live scorpions on a stick. I found out the next day from a different, more official tour guide that scorpions tend to be fried. She said they taste like shrimp, and that snake on a stick tastes like chicken. I never saw the snake on a stick, but now I’m quite fascinated. Should I have tried the scorpions on a stick? Well, if they were fried, it was probably far less likely to cause the explosive happy time than the restaurant we chose shortly after seeing Snack Alley.

Hot Pots. In China’s defense, we went to a very nice restaurant the previous day called “Quan Ju De”, which is apparently one of the originators of the Peking Duck but better than the Americanized version. We ate extremely well there, and I might cover that in a follow up post about the Great Wall, Forbidden City, etc. But right now, we’re going to talk about the magical world of food poisoning/getting sick at a Hot Pot.

A Hot Pot is a simple enough concept, but there are two variants. The first involves everyone throwing a bunch of food into a soup base and sharing that among all the party-goers. The second involves each person having their own soup base and throwing a bunch of food into it and privately suffering through the consequences. We chose the second one. I had a hot-and-sour base and picked sliced duck, pumpkin, and rice noodles for my attempt at soup awesomeness. For those chefs out there, it will likely be obvious that I am not an expert chef from my ingredients. I could probably burn poptarts if sufficiently distracted. Anyway, I get control of the burner underneath my “hot pot”, and I drop in a fourth of the duck, pumpkin, and rice noodle and keep it going for 20 minutes or so, despite the fact that I’m absolutely starving. They give you this soy-based sauce packet that was simply delicious, and I devoured the duck, rice, and pumpkin very quickly once I transferred them from the pot onto a plate. So far so good. My guide, the graduate student and another researcher at our lab sort of laugh at me for cooking duck for so long. They claim such a thin slice of duck should only take 5 minutes to cook. Feeling like an idiot, I decide to drop my 20 minute cook time to 10 minutes, just to be safe.

How safe was I? Do you see the picture to the right? I was squatting over that within 30 minutes. Now, for those Americans and Europeans out there, your eyes are not deceiving you. That is a porcelain hole in the ground. There are four important things to know about this bathroom encounter. First, there is no toilet paper. None. And it’s not an accident. Bathrooms outside of the 4 star+ hotels have no toilet paper. This is a “let-it-dry” culture. Second, I was nowhere near this bathroom. I was in the subway when it hit, and I had to run up three flights of stairs (from what I remember) to get there. And I was happy to be there (the previous fragment should be read in a grumpy old man’s voice complaining about how kids don’t understand how great they have it)! Third, and as a consequence to the 2nd important thing, by the time I got to the bathroom, I was in dire straits. My stomach was churning, I was seconds away from explosion, and I was moving past the bathroom attendant at a full run yelling “Ni hao! Now, get out the way!” Fourth, I have no experience in squatting and avoiding soiling myself in such a situation.

Now, as crazy as this scenario is to me, as a foreigner from more Westernized cultures, it wasn’t all bad news. I successfully avoided soiling myself, which after some hindsight resulted in me giving myself a high five. I made it up three flights of stairs without the party starting too early, and I didn’t have to become indoctrinated into the “let-it-dry” culture. My plan was simple. I waited until my friends got worried and came to my rescue. My heroes passed me a small package of tissues over the divider, and my spirits were immediately lifted. In fact, I left that bathroom in 1000x better spirits than I entered it with. I even high-fived the bathroom attendant before washing. No, I’m kidding. I washed my hands crazier than Rene Russo in the movie Outbreak (and she washed like a madman, even though she was totally too late.) We left the bathroom and the Hot Pot in our rearview walking mirrors and went about the rest of our day.

My next major stop was the Great Wall and Ming’s Tombs. I may cover that in more detail in a later blog post, but first, I want to cover something that is crazy. Concubines. Not the concept really. I understand how a supreme leader would be all “I want that one… and that one… oooh, and that one.” It’s just amazing to me how little rights the concubines had and how sad their existence and deaths were. First, at the Forbidden City there is the Cold Palace. The Cold Palace is the place where the emperor would send concubines that had fallen out of favor. Basically, after he decided he no longer wanted to “hit that”, he’d send the concubine to the Cold Palace where they would have no heat, no company, no comforts at all. They were sent there to die. But when they died, it was a death of dignity and love and remembrance, right? How about “no.” The first imperial tomb at the Ming Dynasty’s Tombs was Zhu Di (became Chengzu after he opened a can of whoopass on the Hongwu Emperor), the third emperor of the Ming dynasty, and his is the biggest tomb of the 13 at the Ming’s Tombs. It’s also the only one that hasn’t been opened or looted. The tour guide walked us around the rectangular section and talked about the crazy Death gate that you should only cross when leaving Zhu Di’s tomb area, and we gawked at the large bronze rectangle which has apparently been destroyed before from lightning and replaced.

Then, she showed us where the concubines were buried. I kid you not, the picture to the left is where they threw the concubines to their final resting place (after poisoning them without them knowing about it). It gets weirder and more feng-shuiey. To prevent issues in the afterlife and to honor geomancy concepts in feng shui, the concubines were buried outside of the main circular tomb area, on the side of the emperor so they would be sufficiently far enough away from the empress. Also, to create harmony amongst the 8 official concubines, the retainers constructed two pits, one on either side of the tomb entrance, and split the dead concubines into two groups of four. Problem solved! Now, just toss the women into a pit but far enough away from the official wife, so she doesn’t get mad in the afterlife.

So, if you were a concubine in ancient China and were lucky enough not to be sent to the Cold Palace, you got to be buried close enough to the emperor for him to enjoy your zombie loins well into eternity but far enough away that you didn’t bother the undead empress. OK, so the tour guide didn’t really tell me that anyone would become zombies. Everyone went to heaven where they maintained their distances and orientation for eternity… or something. Either way, I think you’ll agree that this is a bit nuts. Very interesting but certifiable in today’s world (and I think the Chinese would generally frown upon such practices today).

Though, on that note, we found out from the tour guide that China has a one-birth-only policy for each couple that can be circumvented by 1) the death of a child and an application for another birth certificate, 2) having twins, triplets, etc. which count as a single birth, or 3) paying for the extra children. The tour guide said that a second child sets a couple back 880,000 yuan or roughly 146,666 dollars. Most couples obviously cannot afford this, but what was really curious about her explanation was that China currently has a 52% male to 48% female ratio, which is the exact opposite of the rest of the world. What might cause that? Well, I have heard from others that it’s caused by the first circumvention mechanism. If a baby dies, you can have another one for free if you file the paperwork properly. So, if you had a girl and you didn’t want one, she might mysteriously die and you try again until you get a baby boy. Now, again, this is urban legend. I have no idea if this is actually going on or not, but after seeing the concubine pit and hearing about the Cold Palace, the myth came back in my head and whispered in my ear.

And then that thought was completely interrupted by one of the tour guide’s final questions, and I kid you not she actually asked us this right after talking about the one-birth policy.

“Do any of you eat dog?”

It was the most casually atrocious thing I’ve ever heard. I actually laughed aloud because this is the kind of thing that one of my old gaming friends might say over Ventrilo during a boss fight to make everyone laugh. But she was serious, and she was genuinely curious.

“No,” I said for the five people from Spain, Japan, and the USA in the tour. “That’s generally frowned upon in our countries.”

So, should you take a trip to Beijing, China? God, yes! Take three. It may be crazy, but what is life without a bit of adventure! I’ve also heard that Shanghai is amazing.

P.S. See your doctor before you go. I had to get seven or eight shots that combined vaccinations for everything from Polio to measles to Hepatitis and the Bubonic Plague (yes, you can even munch of the old Black Plague in Snack Alley :D).

I miss you, Mitch

Why do we always lose our best comedians and actors to drugs? Mitch Hedberg was one of those guys with a crazy, unique delivery style and a truly random source of inspiration–every day life. He died of an overdose of cocaine and heroine in a hotel in Livingston, New Jersey on March 30, 2005 (tomorrow will be 7 years, so I’m making him a post in remembrance). Here are some of my favorite videos.

His long-awaited introduction to the Canadian market (lol)

David Letterman stand up (one of two, I believe)

Purple people and twin beds:

Another trip to Canada:

His delivery took a while to develop. Earlier, he didn’t have the pauses. Here’s one of his from 1995.

One of his best comedy CDs was Strategic Grill Locations. Youtube has a few of the excerpts from the live show of this (no video). I’d recommend picking up the CD if you like the above. Pretty sure he’s extremely high here.

The CD you buy at stores was edited by Comedy Central and is much better quality.

Anyway, raise a glass for Mitch tomorrow. The world needs more laughter, and he brought the funny well.

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